Renaissance Humanists on the Crusade Against the Turks

This book presents selections from a little-known body of Renaissance Latin literature, translated into English for the first time, by Italian, Byzantine Greek and French humanist scholars from the period 1397-1482, spanning the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. They illustrate contemporary ideas about the Ottoman Empire, its relationship to Christian Europe and the nature of crusade and crusading, and fall into two categories: first, exhortations, letters and orations which call attention to the threat posed to Europe by the Ottoman Turks and appeal for a new crusade against them; and second, historiography on the earlier European crusades and on contemporary campaigns against the Turks. Written by educated politicians, diplomats, courtiers and scholars, these texts reveal both significant continuities with and interesting departures from earlier crusade writing. 15th-century humanists tended to describe crusade according to ancient rhetorical categories such as the secular glory (honor) and strategic advantage (utilitas) of the enterprise; they also defined it as a campaign to defend Europe - an entity whose political and cultural identity was itself in process of redefinition - against external aggression, rather than as a spiritual campaign of holy war or recuperatio. Accordingly, humanist images of the Muslim enemy also developed in new directions. Scholars portrayed the Ottomans not only as religious infidels, but also as barbarian enemies of classical learning and culture, and as masters of a formidable political and military system that seriously challenged European sovereignty. They also tended to apply these interpretations to the history of the earlier crusades, as well, resulting in some original (sometimes highly creative) re-readings of the medieval conquest and loss of the Holy Land. This literature circulated widely among educated readers and much was published by early printers. Very few of these texts are available in modern editions, however, and even fewer have ever been translated into modern languages.